The Art of the Letter


Maybe it was all the excitement in my house about the premier of Season 3  of Downton Abbey.  Or maybe it was the Christmas cards that I was putting away.  Perhaps it was the solitary time I had recently spent reviewing the notes from an old Victorian literature class.  Most likely, it was probably a combination of all three.  No matter what the cause, the effect on me was an impatience and frustration with our present systems of communication.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to spend the rest of my morning haranguing the merits of modern technology.  I am merely trying to point out that I fear we have forfeited some fundamental communication skills in the rush to adopt and welcome the newest gadgets into our lives.

Who can honestly deny that they still feel a little jolt of something – dare we call it happiness?- when we find, buried amidst the piles of bills and junk mail, a handwritten letter?  The silly notion that we are important enough for someone to take the time to write, in their own hand, a little note can make some of us positively giddy.  The effect of this little gift of thoughtfulness that we find in our mailboxes can leave us lightened for the entire day.  Texts, I’m afraid, do not leave us feeling that way.  Once we muddle our way through the egregious spelling mistakes and gratuitous happy face icons, we’re left with little more than a typed line of empty words, lacking thought, emotion, or grace.  Texts (and emails, for that matter,) are useful.  But, they need to be reserved for times when they can be just that.  USEFUL!  Period.

Now, to the Christmas card.  I’ll keep it brief.  Christmas cards (or holiday cards if you want me to be more politically correct,) can have a beautiful effect on the recipient.  Whether or not we care to see how much the children have grown that year or what you look like in a bathing suit, the effect of receiving a card is a positive one.  It makes the recipient feel important – even if we all know that we probably won’t be in contact with one another until next year’s card sending extravaganza.  However, if sending a card to a myriad of people that you would otherwise not converse with or even think about during the other 364 days of the year sends a feeling of dread through your innards, then, by all means, refrain from putting yourself out.  You’re not a bad person.  And, by all means, DO NOT succumb to the burgeoning group of tech savvy card givers who feel that an e-card is a thoughtful way of keeping in touch.  If you try to tell me that it’s just one more way you are doing your share to save the environment, I beg you, let me see your recycling bin.  I bet it’s half as full as it could be.  And don’t get me started on your monster truck in the driveway.

While I’m on the subject, thank you notes are not just tasteful.  They are necessary.  And by notes, I mean something handwritten on nice paper with a STAMP on it.  Even if it’s only being delivered two houses down.  Common civility should not suffer the wrath of the smart phone.

The art of the letter was once exactly that.  An art form.  A crafted piece of someone’s creativity and imagination, put on paper that reflected the style of the person signing their name.

It’s time we take back the opportunity to let people know we are thinking about them in a beautiful, heartfelt, and gracious way.  Go ahead, Facebook them, send them a tweet, text a little emoticon of happiness.  But, don’t forget the letter.  It is the only simple form of written communication that we still have available to us that can brighten up even the darkest of days. (And it helps to make sure that the postal service doesn’t go belly up.  At least not this year!)


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